Fuelled by the desire to make a difference in her child’s life – and of those in the community – Nicolette Ripepi formed Autism Connect, based in Westridge, in 2013.
Ms Ripepi said her life had changed the moment her son Tyler, had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“We were naturally disappointed but trusted that God would guide us on this journey. Our experience was made a bit more challenging when it was discovered that Tyler’s condition was severe. This needed private intervention to enable acceptance at established, state-run, schools for autistic children.
“Travelling and private tuition costs soon mounted, with seemingly little improvement in his development.
“This was draining and disheartening. Having lived in the community all my life; having been subjected to impoverished conditions and its effects on normal people, my thoughts went with the reality of my situation and its potential effects on families with similar challenges.”
She said the NPO helped pupils become functional in all areas of life and prepare them for acceptance in the school system for autistic pupils.
“We also focus on addressing the characterised difficulties that are associated with ASD, such as social interaction verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviours.”
April is Autism Awareness Month and, according to Ms Ripepi, there are close to 300 people living with autism in Mitchell’s Plain.
“Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder or brain disorder that impairs social integration, language and communication as well as imagination and sensory disturbances.”
Autism Connect held a fun walk earlier this month which was attended by close to 200 people.
The aim was to raise awareness in the community about the condition.
“The fun walk was purely to commemorate Autism Awareness Month that is celebrated or commemorated every year in April and it’s about advocacy, spreading awareness and education about the condition so many families are struggling with daily,” Ms Ripepi said, urging people to be aware of and empathetic to those living with autism.
“It’s a daily struggle and battle for us as parents to give the best to our children.
“The community at large should be more ‘autism aware’ and learn or be informed as much as possible about the condition as so many children and families are affected by this condition.
“At Autism Connect we understand the need and the battle that families are going through every day. We host workshops and render support to families at Autism Connect ,and the community at large,” she said.
According to the Western Cape Department of Health’s website, if babies and toddlers do not do the following, it may be early signs of autism:
Make eye contact, for example, look at you while being fed,
Smile back when smiled at.
Respond to their name, or to the sound of a familiar voice.
Follow objects visually.
Point or wave goodbye, or use other gestures to communicate.
Follow the gesture when you point things out.
Make noises to get your attention.
Imitate your movements and facial expressions.
Reach out to be picked up,
Play with other people or share interest and enjoyment in an activity.
Ask for help or make other basic requests.
To get in touch with Autism Connect, email firstname.lastname@example.org log on to www.autismconnect.org.za or call 021 370 0098.